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Theater Review: “This Beautiful City”

“This Beautiful City” plays through December 16, 2018, at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights.

Colorado Springs, the beautiful city on a hill, became a bastion of fundamentalist Christianity in the 1980s, when Ted Haggard’s New Life Church moved into the laid-back hippie area and started preaching hellfire and damnation.

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family followed, and soon Christian evangelizing was going on even at the nearby Air Force Academy.

This caused great dismay and annoyance to longtime residents not of the fundie persuasion.

And when Haggard’s gay affair – and his use of methamphetamines – were exposed a few years later – and the pastor of the nearby evangelical black church came out as gay – no less dismay was caused.

In 2006, New York-based community activist theater group The Civilians moved in to interview townspeople and collect opinions on this unfortunate state of affairs. The group specializes in investigative theater.

The result is “This Beautiful City” – a collection of quotes from citizens of Colorado Springs set to country-western songs by Michael Friedman – and it has been extended through Dec. 16 at Diversionary Theatre.

The six excellent cast members all play multiple roles; some play instruments as well.

Most of Friedman’s songs have that country/western twang, though there are pop and Christian rock sounds as well. Friedman lost a battle with AIDS last year, which prompted Diversionary’s artistic director Matt M. Morrow to schedule the show. He manages to keep all the balls in the air, though you could get mental whiplash watching these actors cycle through their disparate, sometimes contradictory roles.

For example, Victor E. Chan plays a fiery preacher, a liberal who publishes an anti-megachurch newspaper, and an Air Force dad angry about the church’s proselytizing efforts at the Academy.

Likewise, Theo Allyn, Michael Louis Cusimano, Kim Heil, Jasmine January play various roles. Tony Houck acts as both actor and music director

The interview approach results in what I’ll call nonfiction theater. It’s an intriguing concept, aiming at even-handedness in such hot-button topics as belief and identity (give them points for the inclusion of a Trans woman and a Celtic Wiccan). But this approach makes it more difficult for the audience to engage. It’s like going to a political debate in some far-off place where you don’t really care what happens.

(Full disclosure: I am the product of a fundamentalist upbringing, to which my brother and I responded, shall we say, negatively.)

That leaves you with a country/western musicale, pleasant enough but somehow unmemorable, despite the obvious talent displayed by all five actors.

But “This Beautiful City.” certainly does expose some of the lines along which many Americans are divided.

The details

“This Beautiful City” plays through December 16, 2018, at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights.

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm